The World Championship titles have already been assigned, even if the 2001 season is not yet over. At this point of the year, the teams continue to actively work in intense testing sessions and are focusing towards the development of the 2002 cars. Ferrari, Jordan, Sauber, BAR and Minardi are testing at the Mugello circuit on Tuesday 21 August 2001. Alex Yoong is at the wheel of the Minardi PS01 car and is completing as many laps as possible, in order to obtain the FIA super-license as soon as possible. He will probably make his debut at the Italian Grand Prix. Rubens Barrichello and Luca Badoer doing the test for Ferrari. Michael Schumacher, who is the newly crowned world champion, will drive on Thursday and Friday. The test could be extended until Saturday. The Maranello team aims to further improve the performance of the F2001 car, in order to help Barrichello in his quest to secure 2nd place in the championship. Barrichello completes a total of 68 laps and is the fastest driver at the end of the first testing day. Nick Heidfield is 2nd, ahead of Luca Badoer and Jean Alesi. In the meantime, the 2002 Williams-BMW chassis is already debuting in Spain. Williams and Benetton are testing at the Catalunya circuit. Michelin considers it to be the best suitable track to identify the best compounds for the Belgium Grand Prix. Mark Webber and Jenson Button are in charge of the Benetton test programme. Ralf Schumacher is the fastest driver at the end of the first day of testing. Jenson Button is 2nd while his teammate Mark Webber is 3rd fastest. In the meantime, McLaren, Jaguar and Arrows are doing a three-day test at Silverstone. Mika, Hakkinen tops the timing sheets on day 1, finishing ahead of Wurz, Irvine and de la Rosa. The McLaren driver tops the timing sheets at the end of the final day of testing, completing a total of 56 laps. Eddie Irvine is 2nd fastest, ahead of Wurz and de La Rosa. Meanwhile, Rubens Barrichello and Luca Badoer dominates the second testing day at Mugello. Rubens promises that the silver steering wheel, the winner’s trophy of the Hungarian Grand Prix that Michael Schumacher spontaneously gave him during the ceremony, will have a special place in his San Paolo home:
"That trophy certainly had a profound meaning for Michael. It did not represent only the race win but the recognition of a historic day in which he won his fourth title. If he has given it to me, it means that I am probably a very important person to him".
Michael already emphasized that you were a fantastic teammate, especially for the race preparation:
"Everyone considers Michael as a cold and introvert. That is only a mask to hide his real personality. He is a genuinely nice guy with great humanity. There have been frictions between us in the past yet it is normal to have them when you work in an extremely competitive environment such as the motorsport world. Our relationship is now as good as new. Michael is a lovely person".
Rubens seems to have finally understood his role in the team and does complain anymore:
"I don’t know whether the team will now concentrate on helping me winning second place in the drivers’ standings. I simply do not think about it, I will not sleep over it. I thank God every day for driving for such a prestigious team. I will try to win. If I finish second, then I will be happy".
You probably know that it is not easy to win against Michael:
"I am sure that he is destined to beat all records. I am different than him for one simple reason. Michael is a driver who is always consistent and always has excellent race performances. I, on the other hand, do not have the same consistency. I have lots of up and downs. I always learn something when I am next to him".
The drivers are still focused on testing duties. In the meantime, their managers are actively trying to find the best Formula 1 seats for the 2002 season. Hakkinen’s future is still hanging in the air. It is highly unlikely that Coulthard will leave the McLaren squad at the end of the season, considering that he had a strong Formula 1 season. The two drivers have already reached an agreement with the team, even if it has not yet been announced yet. It thus leaves room for speculations in the paddock.
The latest rumours are about Jarno Trulli and Kimi Räikkönen. According to speculations, the Mercedes management is unsure that Hakkinen could return to his old form. They are thus trying to convince Ron Dennis to hire Trulli. Nonetheless, he does not want to listen to their advice. The paddock thinks that McLaren could make a bid to hire Räikkönen as test and development driver in 2002, especially if Mika wants to continue next year. McLaren’s long-term goal is to promote Kimi as Hakkinen’s replacement in 2003. Jaguar is seemingly trying to raise another contract proposal to Hakkinen. At the same time, the British team is also exploring the possibility of hiring Giancarlo Fisichella for the 2002 season. Niki Lauda would really like the Italian driver to become his employee, but the plan does not come into fruition. A couple of days later, Giancarlo signs a three-year contract with the Jordan team. Fisichella thus ends the working relationship with Benetton-Renault. The Rome driver trade seats with Trulli, who makes the switch from Jordan to Benetton. Michael Schumacher is working on the tyres, the mechanical elements and the electronic system, in order to develop the 2002 car. The reigning champion is the fastest driver on the third day of the Mugello test. However, he is involved in an incident that changes the dynamic of Ferrari’s celebratory day at Mugello. In the middle of the afternoon session, Michael goes off track at the end of the start/finish straight and slams against the tyre barrier at the San Donato corner. The cause of the incident is a suspension failure. The cars usually run at 300 km/h before breaking for that corner. The German driver is unscathed, since the gravel slowed down the car before the impact. The F2001 car is seriously damaged and the team is forced to suspend the test. The car is sent to Maranello for necessary checks. The 4-time world champion is rather upset after the shunt and prefers to go back home in Switzerland. He will skip the football match of the Nazionale Piloti against the singer Zucchero’s team at Pontremoli, in order to prepare for the upcoming Belgian Grand Prix. The champion briefly talks about his physical health before leaving the track:
"I feel fine. I do not need a check-up from the doctors. It is better to go home and rest".
The test is under closed doors. Nevertheless, ten thousand passionate Tifosi cheered for the four-time world champion from the early hours of the morning. Michael was shocked by the sheer amount of people that came to the test. The Tifosi witnessed the shunt from outside the gates and tried to find the best places to see the red Ferrari dot. The incident, which occurred at 16:55, is a further hoax for the Maranello team. Ferrari realizes that not inviting the Tifosi to the test was a mistake. The Maranello team promises that they would do amends for it. However, this will not happen. Schumacher has in fact already left Italy. He later admits that the previous incidents are still affecting him somewhat:
"My concept of danger has changed me a little. These accidents are definitely not a pleasant experience but I know there was a technical reason behind them. However, I always have great faith in the team. I know that, just as when I get on a plane for example, you can never be 100 percent sure that you will not have an accident".
You are continuing to declare your love for Ferrari:
"I would happy to finish my career here. I have a contract until the end of 2004.Then we’d have to see, but as long as I am still enjoying it, I’ll continue. I would like to extend my stay in the team if the team allows it".
It is a phrase that goes hand in hand with his promise to help Barrichello in his quest to take 2nd position away from Ralf:
"Our primary objective in the coming races will be to secure second place in the Championship for Rubens. Only then Ferrari’s season can be said to be more than perfect. I am pretty sure that I can do something for him. The question if he needs to it or not. He needs to be as strong as he was in Budapest and if he is, he can be there. Even though I love my brother Ralf very much, we are driving for different teams with different interests".
What is your secret?
"A lot of discipline. Discipline in training, in work on the car, belief in development, on the human side as well as the technical side – and of course you must never give up. I am lucky that I have most of those ingredients to be successful but I know you have to be disciplined enough to keep on working".
Coulthard thinks that you are an alien:
"They do not exist. I realized this during my second race, in 1991, at Monza, when I was able to fight with Prost. I understood that the drivers, in Formula 1, are normal people who need a competitive car in order to win races and championship. From then on, I knew that I could have a breakthrough moment".
Is it true that you wanted to become a football player and to be as talented as Beckenbauer?
"Who knows, I simply knew that I did not have his talent. Jokes aside, a human being has only one talent. I like being a driver and to fight for pole position and races. My motivation obviously is to win. I do not care about finishing in 2nd place".
You did not cry on the podium before:
"In the past I was trying to control myself and to hide my emotions. I had less self-confidence before. I thought people would think that showing emotions was a sign of weakness - there are people who misinterpret things. When you are young, you do these things, but as you get older it changes. I always let myself go when I was with my family or watching movies with my wife but never in public. Now I always express my emotions. This is who I am, I do not care about people’s judgements".
On Thursday 30 August, Schumacher has a public appearance at the Fiat headquarters in Turin. He is the testimonial for the Stilo car, declaring in front of the journalists:
"You will also try it in a couple of a days. What a car! I like it very much, a beautiful and aggressive car, it is nice to drive… not bad at all. If you think about what a Fiat car used to be …well… I really like to drive a car such as this one".
Michael is relaxed and calm after sealing the championship. How does you defend yourself against the crowds of people who follow you everywhere? How do you stay put, how can you remain impassive in the midst of so much enthusiasm?
"In those moments, I have my own way of defending and alienate myself to not be involved. I go back home and I close myself between those four walls with my family. I remain true to myself, to who I am and who I was. This does not mean that I do not feel emotions. I just do not get involved in all the shenanigans and I am already thinking about the future".
The four-time world championship could have little motivation in having a good weekend at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. However, his reply says otherwise:
"It is where, in Belgium, I made my debut in Formula 1 with Jordan 10 years ago. Since then, I started to like it. It is a fast, challenging, difficult, even dangerous track. This year, the owners have finally made the needed changes in order to make the track more secure. I would like to win but I would let Barrichello pass if I were in front of him. I admit that I’ll certainly do everything to help Barrichello. We both drive for Ferrari. He showed his loyalty to me in Austria by helping me get two points. He deserves it".
Michael Schumacher is not unfazed by the championship win and continues to be the man to beat. The Ferrari champion tops the timing sheet in FP1, setting a 1'48''655. He is 0.749 faster than Jarno Trulli. Rubens Barrichello is a 0.052 slower than the Jordan driver. Mika Hakkinen is 4th fastest, albeit 1.5 second slower than his old rival. The first half of the second session is characterized by Coulthard’s accident. In the last 20 minutes of the FP2 session, a brief yet intense storm floods the circuit. Michael and the other drivers test the set-up of the cars in wet conditions. High water clouds rise as the cars go by. The visibility is low and it is very dangerous to overtake. Schumacher is in Pedro De La Rosa’s slipstream. The Germany misjudges the distance between the F2001 car and the R1 Jaguar during the overtake. The visibility is quite low and it is difficult to see. The front end of the F2001 hits the rear of the Jaguar car. Both drivers are driving very slowly but are able to bring the cars back to the pits. The F2001 has a locked wheel and a broken front wing whilst the R1 has a rear puncture. The tangle between Schumacher and De La Rosa isn’t the only highlight that characterizes the second free-practice session. Juan Pablo Montoya has an even worse incident. At the exit of the Fagnes corner, the Colombian suddenly loses control of the Williams car. The FW23 car quickly slides off-track and violently spins against the guardrail barrier. The car is semi-destroyed, especially in the left-sidepod, but the driver is unscathed. Hakkinen, Trulli, Räikkönen, Irvine and Marques either spin or finish dangerously off-track. The heavy rainfall prevents surprises in FP2. Michael Schumacher tops the timing sheets, while Rubens Barrichello is 3rd fastest. The surprise of the day is Jarno Trulli, who splits the two Ferrari drivers. Giancarlo Fisichella is 4th fastest, ahead of Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Räikkönen. Ralf Schumacher, Eddie Irvine, Jean Alesi and Jenson Button round up the top-10. David Coulthard is only 22nd fastest, unable to set a lap time after the accident in FP1. Schumacher explains that the incident with de La Rosa was unfortunate:
"The situation was the usual one when you are running in spray. You have no chance to judge the distance nor to see the rear light. All you see is the spray. You have to hope that the driver in front behaves normally and accelerates down the straight. I was being careful, because I knew there was a risk of aquaplaning, so I was not going flat out. For whatever reason, I just had a feeling he might be going slowly, which is why at the last moment, I moved over, even though I could not see anything. By then it was already too late. You can only see the car ahead when you are one metre behind, but in this case, the speed difference between us was too great. I could not avoid him".
De La Rosa does not blame Schumacher for the accident:
"I was looking in my mirrors and I could see there was a Ferrari coming, so I went completely to the right-hand side. I could not disappear from there. I was allowing him the road to choose wherever he wanted but he preferred to hit me. I just think there is no-one to blame really. It was just a typical wet weather accident".
The day might be over but there are still business talks occurring behind the scenes. It is revealed that Ferrari will supply engines to the Prost team for the 2002 season, while Minardi officially announces the switch from Cosworth to the Asiatech engine. It will be an updated version of the engine that the Arrows team is using at the moment, which will be supplied for free. Moreover, the FIA grants the super license to Yoong. He will thus make his Formula 1 debut with the Minardi squad at the Italian Grand Prix. Last but not least, McLaren renews the sponsorship contract with Mobil 1. Williams is the team that brings the most technical upgrades for the Belgian Grand Prix. Ralf Schumacher will use an upgraded version of the FW23 car, which is characterized by a chassis realized with new manufacturing techniques. It is 3 kg lighter than its predecessor, despite having the wider and evident side fins. It is due to the modifications applied to the attachment area to the more extreme sidepods. The idea of the designers is to improve the aerodynamics of the car by favouring a better airflow. There are changes to the diffuser profile, with higher and squared channels. The radiators are smaller.
The front wing is also different and it has an unprecedented fin within it. Ferrari brings a new front wing, built upon by a series of solutions that were tested in the previous races. It is adapted to the challenges of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. McLaren instead does not have any upgrades. Benetton, Arrows and Jaguar carry over the technical upgrades that were developed for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Meanwhile Minardi builds a new gearbox. Prost has a more substantial package of upgrades, adopting new rear suspensions that have a deformable structure and a new semi-axle with a big extractor profile. Jordan and BAR do not confirm the Hungarian aerodynamic packages. The two teams are not bringing new upgrades, given that they are already working on the designs of next year’s cars. On the eve of the race, the FIA publishes the first draft of the 2002 race calendar. This version of the document does not have any major changes, apart from the date switch between the French and the British Grand Prix. At the same time, though, Bernie Ecclestone is doubtful that the Belgian race could remain for the 2003 season. It is due to the rigorous laws on the tobacco, introduced in 1997. Those prevents the advertising of those products, even during big sporting events. Serge Kubla, who is the Wallonia economic minister, is immediately aroused by Ecclestone’s statement. The Belgium media emphasize how the Grand Prix is the main sources of livelihood for the Tourism. The race brings more than 200.000.000 Franks in the hotel coffers in the Liegi province. The ticket sales, souvenirs and various gadget generate a revenue, which is between 500.000.000 and 700.000.000 Lire, that is invested in Ecclestone’s society coffers. Montoya and Ralf Schumacher are the fastest drivers in FP3. Juan Pablo rattles his teammate off with a 1'47''768. Ralf Hakkinen is almost three tenths slower, while Mika is one second behind the pacesetter. It is now time for the qualifying session. Two hours later, the medical helicopter is still unable to take off. The session is thus postponed for two more hours and will only last 45 minutes. As it often happens in Belgium, the rain dictates the law. The drivers start the session with the wet tyres. Schumacher is the master of those conditions.
The track dries up towards the end of the session. The times will likely tumble down. There are 5 minutes remaining. Jacques Villeneuve tries the gamble of the dry tyres. All eyes are on him. If his attempt goes well, everyone will change tyres to set better lap times. Ferrari sends Barrichello out on track. However, he does not want fit the dry tyres. According to him, the track is still too wet for the dry compound and there is a high risk of going off track. This proves to be the wrong choice. Schumacher wants to try to set a lap time with the dry tyres, realizing that the provisional pole position is at risk. Michael is thus able to go even faster, setting a 1'56''921. The Williams drivers go out on track with the dry tyres. In the end, Juan Pablo Montoya aggressively snatches pole position away from Ralf. The Colombians stops the clock at 1'52''072. Ralf is almost nine tenths slower than his teammate. Michael is relegated to the second row of the grid. Frentzen will start alongside the new 4-time champion. The superiority of the Michelin tyres enhanced his very good quali performance. Barrichello will line up in 5th position. He is the only top driver to have set a time with the intermediate tyres. Villeneuve is 6th, ahead of Hakkinen and Fisichella. Coulthard is only 9th fastest while Pedro de la Rosa rounds up the top-10. Olivier Panis and Kimi Räikkönen are on the sixth row of the grid. Jean Alesi will start 13th, ahead of Nick Heidfield. Jenson Button is 15th while Jarno Trulli is 16th fastest. Eddie Irvine and Luciano Burti are on the ninth row. Jos Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Enrique Bernoldi and Tarso Marques will start from the final two rows of the grid. The Arrows and the Minardi drivers go over the 107% limit. Nevertheless, they are admitted to the race. The stewards argue that the qualifying session was contested under exceptional conditions. 17 cars were on track as the marshals were waving the yellow flags, when Heidfield went off track. The rules state that a driver has to slow down when the yellows flags are being waved. Those cars appeared to have not slowed down enough. The question is: who did slow down and who did not? We will never know. Meanwhile, Ron Dennis presents a complaint to the FIA:
"We want to try and understand what the regulation is being interpreted in a specific way that it hasn’t been interpreted before. The regulations say that if you go through a yellow flag and set a fastest time in that sector, you lose your fastest lap. It is idiotic to never respect the regulations. Maybe I am the idiot, who wants to enforce the rules".
The McLaren team presents a formal protest at 18:20. 17 cars are under investigation for not lifting off the gas. The stewards examine the telemetry of the investigated cars before taking a decision. After a 30-minute meeting, it is decided that the appeal will be rejected:
"Having heard the arguments of the team manager, having looked closely into all available data and information and taking into account the rapid change of track conditions, the stewards...decide to reject the protest".
The classification is not alternated. It is rather curious that one of the McLaren cars was also involved in the investigation. Montoya’s joy was delayed by six hours. Dennis’ wallet is lightened up, given that he had to had to pay a caution of 42.500 dollars for the protest. He is furious during the interviews:
"Last year, during free practice on Saturday morning, Wurz set the fastest sector time on a part of the track where the yellow flags were being waved. In the afternoon, all qualifying times were deleted for this exact reason. Why him and not the others? There is too much subjectivity in the regulations. At this point, if the stewards find a car underweight by a kilo, I could say that the I immediately consummated the remaining fuel after crossing the line. 17 drivers improved their times immediately after Heidfeld’s incident, with his Sauber stranded at the side of the track. It is a question of principles; the regulations are there to be applied".
If the protest had been accepted, Michael Schumacher would have started in pole position:
"I don’t care what would have happened. It is a question of sportsmanship. From now on, I will not tell my driver to slow down anymore when the yellow flags are out".
Dennis does not accept what it is written in the FIA press statement. The stewards believe that the faster lap times were due to the rapid track improvements. In addition, they state that the cars slowed down enough in the sector of the track where the yellow flags were being waved. It is a justification that Schumacher already anticipated beforehand:
"If the track dries up, you are of course more rapid. We will not be able demonstrate that we lifted off but nobody can prove otherwise".
The malignant view Dennis’ ire as a way to protect the team from defeat. Williams can now try to overtake McLaren for 2nd place in the constructors’ standings, after monopolizing the front row. The last time that Williams started 1-2 was at the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim. The McLaren protest could have changed this result. Fortunately for the Grove-based team, it did not happen. Montoya later rants:
"Beating the two Schumacher brothers is always exciting".
Tell us more about your qualifying session:
"I only actually went throughout two sets of tyres, we did the first run on wets, but we knew it was going to get drier and drier, so we did a decent lap to get us on the grid and then we had to play completely on slick tyres. It really worked well. The team did a fabulous job - they were absolutely brilliant. Everybody did a just fantastic job. This is a track I know quite well".
Ralf has the new chassis whilst you had to use the old one:
"The chassis is important. Before the start of the session, we decided to keep it mostly set up for the dry. We knew it was going to get drier and drier, so I did a time to get us on the grid and then it was a case of waiting to use the slicks and it really worked".
Juan, are you surprised by the gap?
"I thought it was going to be close so I gave it a really big go on the second lap. Looking at the time difference, it is brilliant".
Ralf, you seem frustrated after qualifying:
"I knew at the end I could go quick. I was prepared to give 100 per cent, but Juan's car was simply a bit better than ours. Yesterday we thought there may be a fair chance for us, much better than we expected. But there is still a lot to improve because the car is not perfect".
Michael Schumacher is not disheartened by the qualifying result:
"It already looked from the times this morning that Williams could do something here. We should go better in the race. When I went out right at the end, I really didn’t think that I could improve, but while I was circling to start my fast lap, it dried enough for me to be able to go faster".
Are you not upset with the 3rd position?
"I am not upset at only being 3rd. In the circumstances we are not at all upset. Put it this way, I’m the Bridgestone pole-position today. If we look at the gap to the next Bridgestone guy, it’s quite big. We timed it right. It looked that way already this morning when these guys went on dry tyres in slightly damp condition, they got good grip. You know these tyres have an advantage in one area and a disadvantage in another. You know, these tyres have an advantage in one area and a disadvantage in another. The race is long way and it should be alright for us".
What weather are you expecting for the race?
"The weather forecast is for a dry race, which would suit me. Maybe we will have a problem in the wet-dry situation on dry tyres but think that we can win".
Schumacher dominates the Sunday warm-up session on a dry asphalt, setting a 1'49"495 lap time. Mika Hakkinen is 0.095 seconds slower than Michael. Ralf Schumacher has the 4th fastest time. Barrichello is 10th while Coulthard is only 12th fastest. Fernando Alonso is involved in a frightening and scary incident, which completely destroys the Minardi car. The Spaniard loses control of the PS01 car at the exit of the Stavelot corner, which violently hits the left side of the barriers. The Minardi driver goes through the track before stopping on the grass of the right side of the circuit. Fernando is luckily unscathed and is declared fit enough to start the race. Unlike qualifying, the weather forecast does not predict rain for the race. Innocent dark clouds are in the sky.
At 2:00 p.m., 85.000 spectators watch the start of the race. The field is all set. At the third red light, Frentzen is waving his arms around to let his fellow colleagues, the marshals and the FIA race direction know that the Prost car is not going anywhere. The Ferrari engine has completely shut down at the back of the AP04 Prost car. Tarso Marques has also stalled on the grid. Charlie Whiting decides to abort the start. According to the regulations, Frentzen will start from the back of the grid. He will thus need to switch the strategy to a one-stop race. The starting procedure is repeated again. Yellow flags are waving for Montoya. The pole sitter is stationary on the grid, while his fellow colleagues start the formation lap. The soon-to-be ex-pole sitter will join Frentzen at the back of the grid. The two Schumacher brothers benefit from this change. Ralf will try to defend pole-position against Michael. Lights out! Ralf has a good start and keeps the lead going into La Source. The reigning championship can only queue behind his brother. Barrichello is 3rd. Giancarlo Fisichella has an outstanding getaway and is already up to 4th position, using Benetton’s new traction control system to his advantage. At the end of the Kemmel straight, Michael Schumacher pulls alongside Ralf and easily gets through him with the use of the slipstream. At the end of the 1st lap, Michael is ahead of his brother, Barrichello, Fisichella, Hakkinen and Coulthard. Jean Alesi makes up a couple of places on the 2nd lap, overtaking De la Rosa and Panis. The Jordan driver is now 10th. At the start of the 3rd lap, Fisichella is trying to keep Hakkinen and Coulthard at bay. This does not last long though. At the Kemmel straight, the power of the Mercedes engine is proving too much for the Benetton driver. Hakkinen gets by Giancarlo for 4th. The Italian is flustered. Coulthard does not want to waste time stuck behind the Benetton. The McLaren takes advantage of Fisichella’s mistake at Pouhon to gain 5th position. At end of the lap, Alonso is the first driver to retire with a transmission issue. During the 5th lap, Irvine and Burti have a really nasty incident. Looking at the replay, Eddie and Luciano were side-by-side at Blanchimont before the collision. Burti’s car violently spears against the barrier at around 250 km/h. The dynamic of the impact is scary and the race is red-flagged. Irvine rushes to Burti’s rescue. The Prost driver is buried under a mountain of white and red tyres. The ambulance and the rescue vehicles intervene immediately and Burti is taken to the Liegi university hospital with the helicopter. It seems like Burti’s life is in danger. A couple of minutes later, the stewards officially publish a press release:
"Burti is conscious".
The race will soon re-start. The grid will be based on the classification of the 4th lap. The race will be 36 laps long, instead of 44. The FIA takes into account the laps that were completed before the incident, plus the ones that were made prior to the interruption of the race. Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso will not take part in the second restart, since they retired before the red flag period. A new formation lap will occur in the next 3 minutes. drivers are about to start the insight lap. Ralf Schumacher is ready to resume the fight with his older brother. There is one significant detail that will prevent him from doing so. Something bizarre is happening on the grid. Ralf is still up in the jacks. The mechanics run out of time in frantically trying to fix the rear wing of the FW23 car, thus forgetting to remove the jacks underneath the car. It is a tragicomical mistake which forces the German driver to start from the back of the grid. It is not exactly what the Grove team expected, especially after locking out the front row yesterday. Michael Schumacher has a good start and keeps the race lead at La Source. Hakkinen has a slow getaway and is quickly overtaken by Fisichella. The Benetton driver is up to 2nd position after making yet another storming getaway. Montoya is pushed wide by De La Rosa and is almost into the barriers. On lap 2, Montoya is up to 12th position but is forced to retire at the Pouhon corner. De La Rosa and Nick Heidfield are also out of the race. On lap 4, Michael Schumacher is ahead of Fisichella, Barrichello, Coulthard, Button and Hakkinen. Fisichella is pressurized by Barrichello for 2nd. The Italian is unfazed by the Brazilian and is able to defend the position. In the meantime, Hakkinen is able to take 5th position from Button. During the 5th lap, the English driver is overtaken by Trulli, Alesi and Jacques Villeneuve. Schumacher is on a league of his own, since he is at least one second per lap faster compared to the rest of the field. In the meantime, Fisichella seems to be a cork in the bottle for Coulthard.
Trulli is the first driver to pit. It is an early pit-stop. This is because the teams were not allowed to refuel the cars during the red-flag procedure. The teams had to comply with this instruction, otherwise their respective drivers would have been forced to start from the back of the grid. By the end of the 6th lap, Michael is already 20 seconds ahead of Fisichella. Hakkinen and Barrichello make their first pit-stops on lap 7 and 8 respectively. Hakkinen uses the undercut to get ahead of Barrichello. Mika is now running in 4th position while Barrichello is 5th. On lap 11, Michael and Coulthard make the first pit-stop of the day. Fisichella briefly takes the lead of the race. On lap 12, Coulthard tries an undercut over the Benetton driver but to no avail. Giancarlo is still ahead of the McLaren driver. Barrichello is the biggest loser out of the pit-stop phase. Panis is penalized with a 10 seconds Stop&Go penalty for crossing the white line at the pitlane exit. At the start of 17th lap, Barrichello hits a bollard at the Bus Stop chicane while trying to overtake Hakkinen. The Brazilian driver is limping back to the pits to change the front wing. In the meantime, Button is forced to retire. Fisichella continues to hold 2nd place, slowing down Coulthard in the process. The Scottish driver is much faster than the Benetton driver but is unable to get by. Michael Schumacher is thus able to extend the margin over the Benetton-McLaren duo. On lap 19, Trulli starts the second round of pit-stops. On lap 25, Schumacher is the last driver to do a fuel-and-tyres stop. From this moment on, Schumacher is simply managing the race. lead. Coulthard is really close behind the rear of the Benetton, after being slowed down by Bernoldi’s Arrows. At the end of the Kemmel straight, the Scottish driver sweeps around the outside of Fisichella for 2nd position. This is the new race classification. Schumacher is in the lead, followed by Coulthard, Fisichella, Hakkinen, Trulli, Alesi, Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher. On lap 31, the Brazilian driver is on a charge to take 6th position away from Alesi. At the Kemmel straight, Barrichello pulls out of the Jordan’s slipstream to score one championship point. At the same time, Trulli’s engine blows up. He is out of the race. Alesi is able to stay ahead of Ralf until the end of the race, thanks to a good straight-line speed. He will score a further championship point at the end of the 36th lap. Michael Schumacher crosses the line to score his 52nd career win, becoming the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time. He overtakes the legend Alain Prost at the end of the Belgian Grand Prix. Coulthard and Fisichella are on the podium. The Italian takes the 200th and last podium in the history of Benetton. Hakkinen, Barrichello and Alesi round up the top-6. Schumacher is ecstatic about winning at Spa:
"Spa is traditionally one of the few great tracks, like Monte Carlo, and has a very high value to the drivers - at least in my view. To win here is always something special. I have loads of memories collected over 10 years. Obviously, there was not a big fight involved this time except on the first lap with Ralf. After that, it was a straightforward race, obviously not exciting to watch from outside, but the feeling is nice. I don't know what was wrong with the Williams, but if they had made the same start at the second start as they did at the first, Ralf would certainly have got by me at the first corner. Luckily, he didn't and I got a clear run. After that I raced away".
It was easy to concentrate from then on:
"I was pushing flat out until the second stop and then eased up. But then I thought I should open up a gap to allow for an extra pit stop because we didn't know what the weather would do. In the end we didn't need it. When everything fits together you can do these sorts of things and we did. What is good is winning the championship with a victory in Hungary and now we have had another race win here. A lot of people think we would take it easy but we are not. Doing it here so close to my home is an extra satisfaction".
You are now the most successful driver in Formula 1:
"I am proud to be the most successful driver in the history of Formula 1. The statistics doesn’t have the first priority but it does mean something to me, to have this number on my count. Actually, I am very delighted about this but I will be much more delighted sitting one day on the sofa, retired, and I have a cigar and beer in hand and think about it".
You still want to win, don’t you?
"Those who know me know that I will never stop fighting. Even when I play football, I try to do my best. There are no particular secrets, I like to win. I enjoy winning and that is it. What is good is winning the championship with a victory in Hungary and now we have had another race win here. A lot of people think we would take it easy but we are not. Doing it here so close to my home is an extra satisfaction. This is our year. Ferrari is dominating. Let’s hope to dominate for a long time".
It is not exciting for the other drivers to always see you ahead:
"I did not enjoy myself either. At the end there was too much chaos, with two starts and Burti’s incident. It was important to stay calm. I was able to build up a very big lead, have a clear race and I am delighted with the result. It was probably too boring for them".
You should thank the Williams team for the disastrous start:
"I did not really notice what happened to him when we left the grid. I then saw his car in the mirrors jacked up. I was thinking 'what's wrong' and I went on the radio but I knew it was too late for him. I feel sorry for him. I would have liked for him to be on the podium with him. I think the guy next to me, Fisichella, made an amazing start. I do not know which position he came from but he almost overtook me. In the end, he blocked the others allowing to escape".
You made a mistake at Stavelot that could have ruined your race:
"The only worrying moment I had was at Turn 15 when I lost concentration because I was playing with too many buttons... I ran wide and almost went into the barrier. But when you drive on the limit that is what can happen".
Why did you continue to push, knowing that you had a big gap over your rivals?
"According to our information, it should have started to rain at around 15:00. For whatever reason, I thought I had the chance to open up the gap for an extra pit and we did not know whether they would do. I just wanted to have that safety margin because I was faster than Giancarlo and David couldn't get by. Thus, I was able to open up such a lead. I used the T-car and I felt much more comfortable in it. Our package was very competitive".
This is your 5th victory at Spa, in a place where you debuted ten years ago. However, Burti’s incident could have been ruined the day:
"Luckily, when we stopped, Jean told me about the situation so we knew at the time that he was conscious and things didn't look too bad. Obviously, we were not aware of the true picture and we were made aware just before those things seemed alright. I saw his destroyed car but also that the protection cell was quite intact. This was a relief for me. I think the drivers, the FIA and everybody have done a good job there. Remember, one or two years ago we had a big kink in the barrier. If it had still been there, he would have had a really big one, that would have been massive".
The next race is your home Grand Prix:
"Now we go to Monza, where we will have reason to celebrate at home, whatever the result. It will be nice to live the celebration of our Tifosi. I will be emotional for sure. we want to do well there, maybe with another victory".
Burti receives the first diagnosis from the medical staff:
"I have a contusion in the face. The exams revealed a slight intracranial haemorrhage, without hydrocephalus".
Burti suffered a severe head injury, a very strong contusion in the face and subsequent intracranial haemorrhage, yet there is no internal liquid spillage. Prost releases an official press release:
"The scan showed bruising on two locations on the head but no swelling. He will be closely monitored and tomorrow there will be another scan".
This is Burti’s second consecutive crash in less than a month. At the start of the German Grand Prix, the Prost driver violently hit the back of Michael Schumacher’s F2001 car and literally took off. The AP04 car launched in the air, rolled over the top of Bernoldi’s Arrows and crashed into the barriers. The dynamic of the incident was spectacular but Burti was practically unscathed. At the second restart, Burti used the spare car but was forced to retire. His arm is sore, following the incident. Irvine will talk to the injured Prost driver after the post-race interviews:
"I am going to visit him tonight once I leave here. It is astonishing he is okay, but I am so glad because he is one of the nicest guys in F1".
Barrichello and Irvine visit Burti in the Liegi hospital in the evening. The Ferrari driver recounts that Burti wanted to get up from the bed and smash Irvine’s face. According to the Prost driver, Irvine caused the terrible accident. Burti will later claim that he has never said such things, arguing that he does not remember anything. Anyway, someone blames the Jaguar driver for causing the incident. Flavio Briatore believes that Burti was trying to overtake Irvine, who brutally closed the door at his rival. Do not forget that Blanchimont is one of the fastest corners of the entire calendar. According to the Benetton team principal, Irvine made a big mistake in closing the door on Burti:
"Everyone needs to calm down. If a driver makes a mistake, he should be stopped for one or two races".
Irvine thinks otherwise:
"I kept my line; he provoked the incident. I was going slow since I was driving a heavy car, full of fuel. His attack surprised me. At that moment I thought: he is crazy, why is he trying to overtake me here?"
Irvine recalls the moments that followed the impact:
"I was the first on the scene and his head was literally pushed over to the left with the weight of the tyres. The head and neck restraint system obviously absorbed the impact of the tyres and played a key role in saving Luciano from serious injury today. I think the fact that he is alive says a lot for the chassis. He was very fortunate".
Sid Watkins, who is the medical responsible of the circuit, was having a nervous breakdown at the time:
"When I arrived with the ambulance, he was unconscious. I woke him up and he then started to scream. I told him to calm down. I was relieved when I saw that he was breathing well".
This story was confirmed by Alex Ribeiro, who was at the wheel of the medical car. Barrichello, who shared a house with Burti at Cambridge, had a flashback in those dramatic moments:
"When I saw a tarpaulin covering the scene of the incident, I thought about Senna. I was terrorized. He should thank God for being able to walk out of that horrible shunt still alive".
Burti clarifies his point of view, denying that he was furious with Irvine:
"I cannot yet tell what really happened. I do not remember the crash. I remember being quite fast and trying to overtake Eddie Irvine. Was Irvine the one who touched me and broke my front wing? I do not think he did not on purpose. He is not at fault. Whilst I was overtaking, the incident occurred, that’s the way it is".
The stewards open a file to establish whether Irvine and Burti were at fault for the incident. The FIA later publishes a statement:
"Having viewed video evidence and heard the explanation of the driver of car number five, the stewards of the meeting decided that the matter was a racing incident and no further action will not taken".
Burti’s helmet is requisitioned and analysed for a long time, in order to understand how the chin strap guard did not collapse after the impact. The deficiencies of the helmet will later be found and solved. In the meantime, the helmet is located in a warehouse near Parigi. The helmet will be given back to its legitimate owner after several years. Burti will post a photo of the helmet on Instagram with the following caption:
"I got back from the FIA the helmet from the Spa accident after 13 years. I will put it in my collection, together with the helmets of Schumacher, Barrichello, Button, Webber and many other colleagues. At first, I thought about putting it near my trophies. After all, it is a trophy".
The 26-year-old Brazilian driver will not take part in the Italian Grand Prix. Unfortunately for him, the Belgium race will be his last appearance in Formula 1.